Exactly five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, another catastrophic storm is testing the federal government’s ability to respond quickly on an island exposed by its rudimentary infrastructure and vulnerability to climate change.
The Biden White House is mobilizing massive aid after Hurricane Fiona unleashed torrential rain, flash floods, mudslides and power outages. Echoes of 2017, when Maria caused more than a few thousand deaths and left billions of dollars in damage, haunt local residents who are still rebuilding their homes. Some people who have had their homes flooded may expect to have to start over.
“It’s been a terrible rain that just won’t stop,” Robert Little, the island’s Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinator, told CNN’s Erin Burnett, as government relief efforts began to ramp up. “The FEMA team has been growing ever since we got the call to come here.
The effort builds on an increased federal presence on the island since Maria, when the Trump administration was heavily criticized for its botched response and for patting itself on the back of months of tragedy as technicians struggled to restore power. Although they often seem to be ignored in Washington, Puerto Ricans are US citizens who live in the US island territory and are entitled to assistance from the federal government.
A detailed assessment of storm damage was still being compiled as of Tuesday morning, but some residents said the horrific flooding and mudslides were reminders of the devastation Maria caused.
The arrival of the latest hurricane was particularly brutal as many Puerto Ricans have fallen on hard times since 2017, struggling through dark chapters of storms, earthquakes, pandemics and political upheaval.
“It’s destruction upon destruction,” former San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Monday night that while most of the damage five years ago was caused by hurricanes, the problem this time is the amount of rain. But while the power grid was repaired after Maria, it hasn’t really improved, he said.
Still, Pierluisi added, “We are much better prepared now than Puerto Rico was five years ago when Hurricane Maria hit us. Just to give you an example, FEMA now has four warehouses located around Puerto Rico instead of one.”
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